TED Conversations

This conversation is closed.

The Genesis of Morality

We all have moral compasses that are influenced by everything around us. Our age, race, gender, religion (or lack thereof), political affiliation, local culture and societal norms all play a part in how we define our set of morals. But everyone is individual, and thus our compasses are unique.

Is there a true base for morality that isn't tied to religion, politics, or society? Can you find a universal root that can be ascribed to from all walks of life?

From constant pondering and discussion with others, I've come to the conclusion that empathy is the genesis of morality. Our miraculous gift of putting ourselves in each other's shoes and viewing the world in different perspectives is the doorway to morally sound decisions. While the exact machinations of the reasoning behind historical villains can be debated for hours, you can chalk up many infamous immoral acts such as the Holocaust, the Crusades, and the Kony abductions to a lack of empathy, a complete disregard for the victims. If more people learned to see what their neighbor sees, the world would be a much more cooperative place.

(I just want to make one point perfectly clear: there is a difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is the mutual agreement based upon emotions or feelings. Empathy is putting yourself in another's perspective to gain an understanding.)

But that's just my opinion. What's yours?

Topics: empathy morality

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • May 8 2012: Alan,

    Here is a very interesting video on youtube called "Dawkins vs. Lennox on Morality" It's a segment of a longer debate on Dawkins's book "The God Dilusion" There is also a longer video of the whole debate on youtube as well.

    I think you'll enjoy it

    • thumb
      May 9 2012: Hi Daniel.
      I love when Dawkins quotes the bible to prove that we don't need the bible. The Golden Rule beloved of Athiests.
      Matthew 7:12 (NIV)
      "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

      The reason we all have a similar moral code is no mystery...
      Hebrews 10:16 (NIV)
      “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”

      • May 10 2012: Sure, because no humans could have come up with a golden rule without the bible (curiously it was there before the bible), because sure the golden rule is not obvious, we had to learn it from a god.

        Yeah, it seems like this lord was rather incompetent at writing those laws into "their hearts." Or maybe it's the opposite and those laws written in their hearts were the ones Christians rather not mention, like the genocide of complete tribes and cities, babies and all, because this lord had promised those lands to "the chosen," and those peoples living there before, who gives a damn. Or slavery, or stoning women who were not virgins when they got married, or stoning homosexuals, or ...

      • Comment deleted

      • May 11 2012: While I admire your devotion to your religion, Peter, this doesn't apply to the conversation. If you read, I specifically stated, "Is there a true base for morality that isn't tied to religion, politics, or society? Can you find a universal root that can be ascribed to from all walks of life?" Not everyone is religious. You can't tell an Athiest that the basis of morality is God's teaching.
        • thumb
          May 11 2012: Hi Alan.
          I agree, religion has nothing to do with this thread, as it has been discounted by the originator. A bit like asking how to build a brick wall without mentioning cement.

      • Comment deleted

        • thumb
          May 12 2012: Hi Obey.
          Genuinely I get deleted for off-topic whenever I talk about the bible (see above).You seem to be immune so far. Neither is it my place to defend the bible; it does that very well by itself. I will comment for you on the way I see things...
          Slavery in the bible was introduced by men as a method of paying off a debt. The bible gives instructions which ensure it is not abused. The word only became emotive when someone decided that black folks were less than human & could be treated as animals. True, some in the church declared that they didn't have a soul. The bible is quite clear that we are ALL made in God's image, regardless of skin, teeth, or any other part of our anatomy.
          Regarding killing etc.
          Every breath is a gift from God. It is withdrawn when He says so. This existence on earth is an infinitely minute part of our existence, though it seems important at the minute, it is nothing. So let's assume the village next to you was burning children, raping at will in the street, murdering at will,& consumed with disease. They were immune to your protestations & looked like heading your way. Would you & yours wipe them out ?
          There is a story somewhere of a king who was due to die. He pleaded with God & was granted another 15yrs. In that time he spawned a son, who in due time turned out to be a tyrant who killed thousands of innocents. Did God do right in being merciful to the king ?
          I am a Christian, I am not a Jew. Jesus is my God, the OT is part of my heritage; I do not completely understand it, but Jesus does & is ok with it. This guy made the universe, then came to earth & died because he loves us. I'm sorry, but I don't see anyone else around who I'd rather trust with my soul. I've just got to believe he knows better than me when folks should depart this life. If you disagree, then take it up with him. If you really believe he doesn't exist then chill, & get on with life.


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.